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Graduate management education trends for international students: report

graduate management education
International students who want to pursue a graduate management education overwhelmingly favour in-person to online learning. Source: Damien Mmeyer/AFP

Despite a pandemic on hand, students’ interest in graduate management education (GME) hasn’t waned, a new report shows. The Graduate Management Admission Council’s (GMAC) 2021 mba.com Prospective Students Survey Report has found that programmes in 2021 continue to grow among prospective students. This trend coincides with waning concerns about the impact of COVID-19.

The proportion of respondents reporting that they are extremely or very concerned about COVID-19 declined from 41 to 33% over the survey period. Three in four (73%) international candidates planning to pursue an MBA outside their country of citizenship are not changing their original plans despite the pandemic.

While there are variations in the levels of concern, most respondents continue to exhibit strong confidence in the value of a graduate business degree. Overall, four in five (84%) candidates strongly agree or agree that a graduate business degree helps someone stand out at work. The report’s findings are based on data collected between July and December 2020 from a total of 2,515 individuals worldwide who indicated plans to enrol in a GME programme in 2021.

Pursuit of a graduate management education driven by global careers

graduate management education

International candidates are driven to pursue a graduate management education to help them find employment abroad. Source: Spencer Platt/Getty Images/AFP

Students are pursuing a GME to reach their career aspirations. “Overall, international candidates are driven by opportunities to live/work overseas, while domestic candidates are driven by a desire for career advancement,” it said. Over 40% of international candidates report working outside their country of citizenship as the primary career motivation.

Top three career goals of international students in pursuing a graduate management education 

MBA-International Business Master’s-International
Work outside my country of citizenship (43%) Work outside my country of citizenship (41%) 
Obtain a senior level position (38%) Work for a company where I can travel internationally (40%)
Live outside my country of citizenship (38%) Live outside my country of citizenship (38%)
Source: GMAC

International students overwhelmingly favour in-person to online learning. A total of 70% of international candidates are more likely to report that they are not changing their original plans than domestic candidates (52%). “This suggests that most international candidates continue to value mobility and do not prefer substituting in-person experience with online learning,” it said.

Among international candidates, those preferring to pursue an MBA are more likely to say that they are not changing their plans (73%) for an alternative such as online learning or a business school closer to home than those preferring a business master’s (68%). Only one in eight (13%) MBA international candidate is willing to consider online learning compared to one in three (30%) MBA-domestic candidates.

Other key highlights from the report include:

  • MBA-international candidates prefer technology (45%) over financial services (36%), possibly due to higher expectations of future employability and visa potential
  • International MBA candidates are more likely to report interest in working in Strategy (59%) than domestic candidates (49%)
  • The top post-GME career goal for Indian citizens is to work for a company where they can travel internationally. They are more likely to consider a business school closer to home (21%) due to COVID-19 than to consider online learning (5%)
  • Candidates from Greater China report the UK (27%) as their preferred study destination and Master of Finance (20%) as their preferred programme
  • Nigerian citizens report Canada (44%) as their preferred destination for pursuing GME followed by the US (29%)

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